Circus has clowns and jugglers — Circus is love and family

I was at Lone Star Circus School recently in a juggling class with my coach Julio Furlan, when a reporter for National Public Radio named came to visit. He asked us all questions, and something I said made it onto the radio yesterday. Here’s a link to the audio, and here’s the story on the KERA website about the school.

At This School, Clowning Around Is Part Of The Homework

Kera photo 1 Lone Star

The Lone Star Circus School over 250 students from age 3 to over 70, and teaches all skill levels. This photo is by Christina Ulsh / Special Contributor/KERA News

There’s a school in North Texas that’s unlike any other. Instead of math and writing, it teaches classes like juggling and contortion.

Fifteen-year-old Kameron Badgers is in juggling class at Lone Star Circus School. The rehearsal room looks like a normal gym, except there’s circus gear all over the place: juggling clubs, colorful feathers, rings and a tightrope.

Kameron’s routine is still rough, but it’s part of the kid’s show that debuts Saturday. (He was at class several weeks ago, the first time Julio and I ran through the routine. It’s not rough anymore! The first show is tonight, at the Granville Performing Arts Center in Garland, and we have four shows this weekend — one tonight, two tomorrow, and one on Sunday. Over 140 kids will be in the shows along with a number of adults from the Lone Star Circus troupe. This is my first year performing with the adults, in all of the shows, although I’ve been a soloist in shows before. I’m really excited about the routine Julio and I put together — I think it’s funny and I hope the audience likes it, too.)

“Our routine is called ‘The Samurai’ and the first thing is, we come out from the two sides, we walk to the middle, show ourselves to the audience and we do that ‘wah-chichi-tah!’ stuff,” Kameron explained.

Every clown gets a name. Kameron’s clown name is Badgers, like his last name.

“Kameron was a very shy child when he was younger,” said his grandmother, Deborah McAlister-Holland. “If you met him today, you’d never believe that. The teachers and the coaches here are fabulous at pulling kids out and showing them that they can do anything.”

Today, as Kameron juggles school, clowning and acting gigs, it’s more than just a hobby.

“A circus is not just trapeze and juggling and clowning,” said Kameron. “That’s what a circus needs. But what a circus is, is far more unimaginable. It’s love. It’s family.”

Beyond the circus tent

Lone Star’s students range from two to 71 years old. Clown and juggling classes are on Thursdays, with toddler classes on Saturdays, but this isn’t the kind of circus with elephants and motorcycle, said Amy Cohen, executive director of American Circus Educators based in New York.

Lone Star Circus Photo by KERA

Fanny Kerwich directs the Lone Star Circus School. She’s an eighth generation performer.
Credit Christina Ulsh / Special Contributor/KERA News

“Contemporary circus can look lots of different ways but it’s not usually presented in a tent, it does not usually have animals,” she said. “It typically can be presented in a theater or outdoors in an environment that could live along dance and music.”

What sets Lone Star apart from the 250 or so circus schools in the U.S. is a strong European influence. That means a focus on movement as live poetry, said Fanny Kerwich, the school’s director.

“A lot of people can do a double somersault but not all of them can perform in the best circus,” she said.

Kerwich is an eighth generation performer. She’s traveled with some of the most renowned shows, from Barnum’s Kaleidoscape to the Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris.

Her move to Dallas from France came in 1992. She did occasional classes at SMU and opened the circus school a decade ago. Lone Star now has more than 250 students and is planning its first big out-of-town winter show in Galveston. For Kerwich, it takes a certain kind of discipline to keep the magic of the circus alive.

“Discipline to the work, discipline showing up to your show, keeping your emotions straight to deliver to your audience and be able to do extraordinary things with your body, your mind and your heart,” she said.

As the school preps for the kid’s show on Saturday, Kerwich dreams of putting up a tent in the Dallas Arts District – and maybe, someday, taking the show on the road.

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